Stepping Down

The "why" and "how" of removing yourself from small-group leadership

Stepping down from small-group leadership is a sensitive subject. Why should you do it? When should you do it? How should you do it? Let's jump in.

The Sin Issue

First, I want to tackle one of the most important issues related to stepping down. The sin issue. Sometimes, leaders think they can't confess a sin because it will require them to step down from leadership. Concerns about the group, letting people down, and reputation can put a tight clamp on a lot of leaders' lips.

But let me be very clear: do not ever let this stop you from confessing something that you need to confess. If there's a persistent sin issue that you need to deal with, then talk to your coach or pastor. Don't keep it locked inside because you are afraid of repercussions. And don't just step down from group leadership so that you don't have to deal with it. Your church and your group are more concerned about you as a Christ-follower than you as a leader.

Here are the steps I would recommend in this situation:

  • Confession. Talk with your coach or a pastor about the issue.
  • Prayer. Pray with them and work with them to determine next steps. It may or may not require that you step down from leadership. In a lot of cases, it makes sense for the leader to continue leading the group as a part of their healing process. If stepping down does make sense, then your coach or pastor will help you develop a plan for stepping down in a way that impacts you and the group in the most positive way.
  • Accountability. Make sure you are in community with 2–4 people who can encourage you, pray with you, and ask you the tough questions.

Now, let's look as some of the other reasons why you might be thinking of stepping down from small-group leadership.

Why Should I Step Down?

There are lots of reasons why people step down from leadership. A valid reason for one leader may not be a valid reason for another leader. Here are some of the common reasons that people step down, and some thoughts on each:

  • You need a break. Leading a group is tiring, and people sometimes do need a break. Rhythm and balance are biblical concepts, and it's probably a good idea for most leaders to take a semester off every 3–5 semesters. But don't neglect community. Breaking away from community will not restore you. As you take some time off to recharge your spiritual batteries, make sure you are doing that within the context of community. Find a small group to jump into.
  • Your priorities shift. Demanding work schedules, new projects, moving into a new home, marriage, new children—there are lots of life changes that cause our priorities to shift. We usually describe this as, "I don't have time to do small groups this semester." But it's not that you don't have time; it's just not a priority. There's a difference. And that's okay. Priorities shift and sometimes leading a small group is not what we need to be doing. But remember, community and discipleship are biblical priorities, so make sure you still jump into a group where you can grow.
  • Your group just isn't working or growing. This probably means you just haven't found your niche. Instead of stepping down, work with your coach or pastor to see if there's something different that you can do with your group, or if there's an entirely different group altogether that you should lead. It takes some leaders three or more tries at leading different kinds of groups before they find their "fit." It's a journey.
  • You are moving. Okay, this one is unavoidable. At National Community Church, we lose about 20 percent of our group leaders every year because our people move all over the world! Make sure you work hard to replace yourself and work with your coach or pastor to determine a strategy for passing the torch to the next leader.

How Should You Step Down?

When you need to step down, there's a process you should follow. It's never a good idea to just close a group and drop out of leadership. The group needs a sense of closure, and the individuals in the group need a sense of direction for the future. You need those same things as a leader.

Here's what we request of our group leaders at NCC:

  • Talk with your coach or pastor. And let me state the obvious—do this before you announce to your group that you are stepping down. If you have been leading a group for a long time, then you should begin talking with your team leader about a semester before you want to step down.
  • Develop a next-step strategy for the group. Work with your coach or pastor to determine what the next step is for the group—to multiply, to get a new leader, or to dissolve.
  • Develop a next-step strategy for yourself. Work with your coach or pastor to determine what your next step is—what group to get involved in, and what your plan is for stepping back into leadership (if applicable).
  • Talk about it with the group. If you've been meeting together as a group for a long time, then it will probably take between six weeks and two months for the group to process whatever changes might be coming. If your group has only been together for a semester, begin talking about next steps three weeks before the semester ends.
  • Replace yourself. Groups should rarely dissolve. Before you step down, work hard to train up another leader or two to take over the group.
  • Celebrate. Whether it's a change of leadership or the end of a group, celebrate it. This brings closure to the group or to the season of leadership, and it helps everyone keep a biblical perspective on community.

This is a tough topic, but an important one that we cannot ignore. If you are thinking about taking a step back, make sure you do it in a way that will ultimately benefit you and your group.

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